The first priority should be awareness-raising

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Alma Swan is director of consultancy firm Key Perspectives. She has written a number of reports on open access.

What is open-access trying to address?

AS: The challenges to overcome are the current barriers to the effective dissemination of scholarly research results. That means overcoming the twin problems of delay in the results becoming available and the fact that only a proportion of the world's scholars can get access to them in a timely way. The first priorities should be awareness-raising and the establishment of a repository in every research-based institution. Open-access policies from national funders would be in close second place. 

How should it be funded?

AS: I think that dissemination of research results is a part of the research process and should be funded from within that.

Public money has always paid for the libraries in universities and research institutes.

Many people argue that a lot of that public money ends up in the pockets of shareholders of publishing companies – but that seems to me to be entirely compatible with a capitalist society.

And although the pattern of this may change quite a lot, where publishers create really valuable services and products for their customers it is right that they should profit from that and hopefully they will continue to do so.

Achieving open access across the whole research community, though, requires only the funding of repositories, which is an institutional responsibility. 

Institutions benefit in many ways from having a repository and repositories will soon be embedded in what research-based institutions do.

How successful is open-access so far?

AS: I think there has been some remarkably successful development in the last couple of years, not least in raising awareness of the issue. The UK's House of Commons enquiry, the European Commission study, the activities of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA and now the interesting deliberations of Research Councils UK (RCUK) have all added to this.

Perhaps the most significant thing on this front, though, has been the Wellcome Trust policy implementation, which has been bold and timely. It is, I suppose, not surprising that in unwieldy democracies it was a private research funder that was the first to clearly see and secure the interests of science. We can only hope that the same sense eventually pervades the minds of those who spend taxpayers' money in its billions, purportedly in the interests of society.